Food and Wine, Anzac Biscuits. Photo: Karleen Minney
Today is not the day, nor Food and Wine the forum, to risk irreverence on the subject of war, so although I'm drawn to parallels between the mistakes piling up in the splatter of my kitchen and the chaos of a battlefield, I will desist, sharpen up and take this Anzac biscuit business seriously.
I start with a battle plan on an A3 spreadsheet to make sense of the dozen or so recipes offered by readers, with strict instructions as to method and technique. It is immediately clear that the standard one cup of oats, flour, sugar and coconut is deeply traditional, and since it has the imprimatur of Anzac Bob Lawson, who was there at the Gallipoli landing (published on the War Memorial website), well, who can argue?
So I'm wondering whether there's any point making all these recipes just to end up with loads of pretty much equivalent biscuits. But truth to tell, I've had trouble with Anzac biscuits for years - there's a buttery, greasy issue with them, a metallic edge from the golden syrup and a tendency to go soggy as soon as they're out of the tin - and it seems certain that somewhere in this spreadsheet must lie the answer.
And while the similarities jump out (the formula is similar amounts of oats, flour, sugar and coconut; plus about 225g of butter, and a bit of golden syrup, water and baking soda), there are differences - some replace part of the flour with extra oats, which seems a healthy idea, and some reduce sugar. Ditto. Some have nuts, 'struth! And sultanas! And the differences seem to multiply in the test kitchen.
First up is Cassandra Walker's recipe since she provides detailed instructions, with just the right tone of authority, about how to make them chewy or crisp, depending on preference. She's clearly done some experimentation of her own.
If you want chewy biscuits (I do), mix the sugar with the butter and golden syrup when you melt them in a saucepan (instead of adding it to the dry ingredients), and cook it till it goes toffee-like, she says.
Many correspondents stressed the need for the baking soda to be dissolved in boiling water, with boiling in capitals. Why boiling? No-one says. But we're careful on this point anyway. When you add the water the bicarb fizzes up, then settles down, as you would expect. But when you follow the unusual instructions in this first recipe to then add the dissolved baking soda to the hot toffee-like mix of butter, golden syrup and sugar, wow, it's back to first-year high school making toffee. The bubbly golden volcanic mixture almost tops the saucepan as it expands. Cool.
Into the dry ingredients, and there has been a stuff-up in our kitchen. The intention was to make half quantities, but it turns out only some of the ingredients have been halved in the confusion. So another heaped cup of rolled oats go in late, and the pinch of salt also neglected first time around. Into the oven on a low 160C, and for just 10 minutes.
They come out looking rather like clumps of oats held together with something sticky. Not like you imagine Anzac biscuits. But I take some photos, write up my notes, look with dismay at the nine-year-old who sways into the kitchen with a ''duh, it's Easter not Anzac Day, mum'', pulls off a piece of biscuit to taste, ''yuk, I hate Anzac biscuits'', and takes her attitude out of the room with a dismissive roll of the eyes. And this was the freedom for which we fought a war? I find them sweet and buttery and oaty and almost a bit raw. Whether that's because they haven't cooled, or whether they haven't cooked along enough, it's not clear, but it's back in the oven for five more minutes.
Time to shape up and be more faithful to these recipes. Next up, Mark Chapman's recipe, chosen because it halves the sugar. Do not boil the butter and golden syrup mix, he instructs, utterly at odds with Walker's suggestion of boiling the mix down to toffee, but I lose track a bit and it probably overcooks while I'm boiling the jug and chopping nuts (yes, this recipe includes cashews) and frowning over the inclusion of sultanas. But essentially, it's the same method as most. Mix the dry ingredients, melt butter and golden syrup, add to bicarb soda that has been dissolved in boiling water. Add wet ingredients to dry, then drop teaspoonsful on to a tray. These biscuits won't drop. The mix is really quite dry. It has 15g less butter than most, and just one tablespoon of golden syrup rather than two, and a full cup of coconut (many others want just half a cup), but that shouldn't account for this scale of difference. Probably cook's error again.
The cooked biscuits couldn't be more different to the first recipe. They're much more like cookies, chunkier. But they're quite pleasing to eat. Gently crunchy on the outside and soft, a little crumbly on the inside, a bit of interest from the cashews, some sweetness from the sultanas, and overall not overly sweet, the ruination of so many biscuits.
The test kitchen plays fast and loose with the next recipe. I feel entitled to do this because the person who contributed it, Eileen Webster, is known to me, which rules her out of contention for the cookbook that goes to the best recipe. Also, another correspondent, Maggie McJannett, says her 93-year-old mother made Anzac biscuits that were soft on the inside, crunchy on the outside. Her secret? ''Put in self-raising flour and when you look at them in the oven and they're all puffed up, take them out and pat them down with your fingers.''
So it's Webster's recipe, but McJannett's advice on self-raising flour and patting down.